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The Russian spy and her daughter who changed modern history

TJI Pick
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Published: 31 October 2019

Last updated: 5 March 2024

This excerpt from a new book chronicles how Russian Jewish socialists found their cause in Communism

JOY BENNETT WAS JUST two years old when she arrived for the first and last time in what should have been her home country, the United States. She had sailed across the Pacific to Los Angeles, California in late 1932 with her mother, Raisa.

The pair then disappeared for several months, only breaking cover when they made a desperate dash to the local hospital, where her mother hoped to have a last meeting with her own dying, estranged father.

Raisa, or Ray, was Soviet Military Intelligence’s primary agent on the West Coast. Two-year-old Joy was her cover. Some eight decades later in Moscow, 86-year-old Joy can still recall a few details of the months she spent in the United States, playing on the beach and meeting relatives.

Her mother was arrested and jailed by the Soviets in 1935, and her daughter never saw her again. She only learned the reasons why two years ago, in 2017.

Ray Epstein Bennett, as Joy’s mother styled herself, was one of a unique generation of Russian-Jewish socialists, a firebrand in search of a cause. Like many of her generation, she found that cause in Communism.

In search of a better life, the parents of young people like her had crowded into the tenements of Brooklyn and other cities to take low-paid jobs, often in the garment industry.

But in America, some of their children came to believe that the game of life was stacked unfairly against them because they were Jews. While the majority accepted their lot and got on with their lives quietly, some chose to join unions fighting for better pay and conditions. Several thousand others joined the radical political parties of the left.

Among this generation, Soviet intelligence found dozens of volunteers who, like Ray, wanted to make a difference.

FULL STORY The spy and her daughter (Tablet)

BOOK: ‘The Spy Who Changed History’

Photocollage: Tablet magazine (original photos US Library of Congress)

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